Tinder is by far the most popular dating app: as of 2019 it has 50 million users worldwide. And it has proven attractive not just to those seeking love but also to relationship researchers. Psychologists are able to test their most intimate questions about partner preferences and choice by directly measuring the behavior of the app’s users.
A common criticism of the platform is that it promotes meaningless sexual encounters (I suppose whether or not this is a criticism or a benefit of Tinder depends a lot on whether one is having a lot of sex). Is it true, though? Is Tinder merely a hook-up app?
In general, research shows that people who are more motivated to pursue uncommitted sex are more likely to use mobile dating apps. This might be because dating apps give the user fast access to many prospective partners. A person who prefers committed relationships, by their very nature, will less frequently opt to search for new partners because their relationships will last longer. Or it could be because those with a short-term mindset find the search itself rewarding: swiping left and right may, to some extent, serve as a recreational activity.
On Tinder, when two users swipe right on each other’s profiles, thereby expressing interest in one another, it is called a ‘match’. The app then allows the two parties to communicate and arrange a date.
A team of psychologists from Norway led by Trond Viggo Grøntvedt investigated whether Tinder matches typically led to one-night stands, as popular discourse would have us believe.
They recruited over 250 users or former users of Tinder. All of the volunteers were relatively young (under 30) and were interested in opposite-sex partners. Each volunteer reported their total number of matches, how often they had met a match (leading either to casual sex or to at least the prospect of a long-term relationship), and how long they had used the app.
Only around half of the volunteers had met with any other Tinder user following a match, which does rather suggest that many people really are using the app recreationally. Those who had met a match had done so only around two times each, with numbers almost identical for men and women.
Twenty percent of the volunteers had experienced a one-night stand with a match; 25% had met someone who was interested in a long-term relationship. Overall, 80% of Tinder users reported that the app hadn’t led to a sexual relationship of any kind.
These results belie the conventional wisdom that Tinder is a hotbed of uncommitted sex. It appears that many users have little interest in pursuing any relationship. Those who do seem to have limited success. Whether Tinder users would be any more or less successful at finding partners if they didn’t use the app remains a mystery.
In the meantime, Tinder is unlikely to be keen to update its image: more than anything, it may explain why their membership is the biggest number in this article.